Online Communities: A Double-Edged Sword Part of the allure of MMOs is the expansive network of players that inhabit the world and work together (most of the time) to defeat foes that no one could tackle alone. Online games thrive due to the dedication of these residents; however, these communities are also the largest barrier to entry new players encounter. The game creates a baked-in set of starter quests to teach new players (or the derogatory, n00b) how to control their character, traverse the world and level up. But the game can’t teach the unspoken rules: the expectations, player setup and diplomacy players demand from each other. To become a productive denizen of the digital society, you either need to lurk on forums, read FAQs or find an experienced player who can shepherd you through the experience. It is near-impossible to watch from a distance and expect to glean this information. An IRL (in real life) friend who enjoys the game is usually the best solution. If a gamer is willing to learn their role, join a guild and master end-game missions, they form attachments to the populace and the game itself. This connection is one of the key reasons World of Warcraft continues to secure millions of monthly subscribers over the past ten years. Ceasing to play the game is admitting that you will no longer talk to war-buddies that you spent hours (or days…or years) bonding with. It becomes tantamount to ending a relationship. Timing is Everything Starting a five-year established MMO is drastically different than joining on day one. When an online game is released, there are few guilds, no established play patterns and no recommended (sometimes required) strategies. It’s the Wild West, and everyone is a pioneer figuring out the best way to survive. This creates a bond that the early adopters can commiserate over. The day-one warriors are quick to find friends and form reoccurring parties. Because they are beginning the journey together, from level one to end-game, they gravitate towards players with similar sensibilities and play schedules. Group sizes are limited. Flash forward two years later and new players have an issue syncing with a party. Many of the characters running around at low levels are veterans trying a new class, and they want to play with their known friends instead of random newcomers. The language that players use also alters over time. The game might call a boss, “Dront the Defiler,” but everyone online and in chat calls him “Tenti” because of his tentacles or an obscure meme reference. If you played the game from day one, this jargon is second nature, and you don’t think twice about its meaning or about using it in discussion. If you are new, it is daunting to constantly infer the meaning of messages. You might even need a third-party resource to translate messages. I’ve got Skillz Games limit the number of active and passive skills a character can use in battle. Dedicated players might not let you join if you are not specced appropriately. Sure, your ice mage did a good job leveling up, but it is the community-standard to play as a lightning mage in order to deal an extra 0.5 DPS (damage per second). What you don’t know will hurt you. You’ll wonder why you weren’t picked up for a group or why you have difficulty finding a party. Good news—there are guides available to teach you the best way to play your class and show you the arithmetic confirming why you must select the skullbash skill (see, Ms. Jones was right about math being useful). Bad news—you’re forced to play the game the way the group-think finds ideal instead of your own unique setup. Equipment Gated The loot treadmill is effective, because players want the feeling of accomplishment when they earn the most powerful equipment. There is an excitement in securing a potent weapon or completing the set of shiny armor you require to enter the next stage of content. When you own these, you know your skill and dedication finally paid off. You are a sought after member for parties; people either want to be you or are jealous of your massive skill. If you can’t secure top-tier loot, it creates another obstacle to engaging in all avenues of content . LFG (looking for group) sites consistently contain posts like “Level 75 Dwarf Sword-master looking for players, must have Orb of Awesomeness or don’t apply.” This creates a sliding scale where the rich get richer and the average players feel they can’t overcome their equipment deficiency. If they can’t join a party, they won’t earn S-Class gear, which means they’re stuck playing with leftover PUGs (pick up groups). The Vital Resource Developers create the world, populate the barriers and provide the tools to create legends, but the most important asset is players. You are the x-factor which determines if the game is a success or failure. If a player logged on and only interacted with NPCs they won’t return, and the experience will be hollow. The relationships formed through encounters, learning and winning together are what players enjoy about the online experience. Gamers invest hundreds of hours into MMO entries because of recognition from the player base, prestige in accomplishing difficult tasks and friendships created over a common interest. These are positive experiences for players that reinforce the online infrastructure and justify the journey. Developers count on this camaraderie to bind players together and establish the world. Ultimately, the community creates challenges that new players must overcome that are more daunting than the most difficult boss. Level Up, Friends!